Tag Archives: Retro games

Review: Zone of the Enders HD

Zone of the Enders is embarrassingly short, repetitive, packed with piss-poor weapons and has a plot that makes no sense. Yet somehow I found myself quite enjoying it.

I think I’m right in saying that it was one of the launch titles for the PlayStation 2, and at the time reviewers were wowed by its next-generation graphics. Even in the HD edition it looks a bit dated nowadays, particularly the cut scenes, with their weird approximations of human beings – imagine the odd-looking humans in the original Toy Story after they’ve survived a terrible plastic-surgery mishap. But the robot-on-robot action moves at a terrific pace, and I can imagine many PS2 owners wheeled out this game to show off the prowess of their new machine.

“Oh my god, your face! I’m so, so sorry.”

That said, I do remember seeing preowned displays practically knee-deep in copies of this game not long after its release – probably because you could finish the whole thing in a day. I saw off the story in about 7 hours, but you could easily do it a lot quicker, and there’s not much reason to return. It’s something that would have annoyed me 20 years ago, but nowadays with my boring, responsible adult life, a lovely short game that I can finish in a couple of nights is a real blessing.

The actual gameplay involves boosting about in your ‘orbital frame’ (i.e. massive robot) and essentially whacking the square button as fast as you can when you encounter any other massive robots. There are about ten or so secondary weapons you can collect over the course of the game, yet all but three – which you get right near the end – are utterly useless. I mean REALLY useless. I tried using them occasionally as an alternative to just going up to enemies and whacking them in the head with my big fancy sword, but I may as well have just been breathing heavily on them for all the damage they cause. It’s a shame, because just flailing your sword around all of the time gets old pretty quickly, and it doesn’t help that there are only three (yes, three) types of enemy – all of which require pretty much the same tactics. That is – you guessed it – smashing them about the body and face with cold steel (or whatever your future sword is made of).

Mash square button to flail sword. Repeat.

And yet. AND YET. I still found it strangely enjoyable. Perhaps it’s just the catharsis of beating things up while piloting a big robot. Perhaps its just the frenetic pace of the battles. Or maybe its because I just really love how sparks fly from your pointy metal feet when you boost along the floor. (I never got tired of that – sometimes it’s the little things that keep you going.)

I even started enjoying the utterly bizarre plot. Some bad enemy robots attack a space station around Jupiter for some reason, and a kid who looks about nine ends up piloting an advanced robot for some reason, then some crazy woman in a kick-ass robot starts murdering everyone FOR SOME REASON. Then it ends with a climactic battle that I won’t spoil for you here, except to say that IT MAKES NO SENSE.

The boss battles add some much-needed variety.

Still, the game gets noticeably better as it goes on. The first dozen or so levels are pretty much identical – go to an area, kill all of the robots there, repeat – but the final string of bosses are great fun to fight, and just before the end it mixes up the gameplay a little by charging you with finding bombs while fighting off bad guys. If the ideas from those last few levels were expanded across the game as a whole, it would have been much better. As it is, it’s a pretty weak and repetitive game that’s worth playing through to get a glimpse of the PS2’s past, but otherwise hardly a classic.

It’s basically FINE.

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What made Doshin the Giant special, and why we’ll never see its like again

Recently I wrote that Doshin the Giant is one of ten GameCube games that I’d love to see on Nintendo Switch. All these years later, it’s still a unique and special experience – there’s nothing else quite like it. Its closest influence is probably the old Bullfrog games Populous, Magic Carpet and Black & White, but since then the only game that’s really resembled it in any way is From Dust by Another World creator Eric Chahi.

The game sees you take control of the titular giant with a mission to please the various tribes that live scattered across several islands. The aim is to use Doshin’s ability to raise or flatten the ground so that they can expand their settlements, as well as plant trees to make them happy. The more they worship you, the bigger  you grow, and the more ground you can raise or flatten at one time. But after the sun sets, you wake up next morning back at regular size, and the process starts all over again.

It’s a sedate, wonderfully charming game, all primary colours and gentle warmth. I absolutely love it. But I also knew nothing about the person who created it – until now.

Recently, Destructoid reported on an episode of toco toco that features a look at the influences of Doshin‘s creator, Kazutoshi Iida. He seems like a fascinating character, and I’m envious of his lifestyle: lecturing in game design by day and watching esoteric films in a crumbling, converted elementary school by night. I encourage you to watch the documentary, too – it provides a fascinating insight into his influences.

I didn’t realise Iida was also responsible for the genre-defying PlayStation game Aquanaut’s Holiday – I’ve never played it, but I remember when it came out people were baffled by this game in which there was no goal except to explore and marvel at the things you find. Since then, plenty of arty games have gone down this route, but Aquanaut’s Holiday was one of the first, if not the first, game to promote exploring for exploring’s sake.

The documentary also highlighted another game by Iida that I’ve never heard of before: Tail of the Sun. Like Aquanaut’s Holiday, there initially doesn’t appear to be an overall objective except exploring, but gradually it becomes clear that you must feed and grow your tribe in order to build a tower to reach the sun. In that sense, the game seems to be a perfect halfway house between Aquanaut and Doshin, and I’m keen to give it a go if I can find a copy somewhere.

Most interestingly of all, Iida reveals that he decided early on that he would only ever make three games in his career – once he’d finished Doshin, he quietly left game development for good. He admits that three is an entirely arbitrary figure, and I’m sad that we’ll never see any more of his genius creations, but I respect his commitment to his ideals.

Still, I can’t help but wish he’d reconsider his position – I would dearly love to see what he comes up with next.

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The Year of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

A while back, I set myself the goal of finishing all of the Zelda games I’ve yet to play before I start the latest game in the series, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Oracle of Seasons is the first one I can tick off that list.

Originally released for the Game Boy Color back in 2001, just as the ageing handheld was being superseded by the Game Boy Advance, Oracle of Seasons is an odd fish. For a start, it was the first Zelda game to be developed by an outside studio, Capcom, and confusingly, it was actually released as two games – Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages. At the time, I assumed that this dual release was a way to jump on the Pokemon bandwagon, a tactic of releasing two basically identical games with a few minor differences. But that’s not the case – each game is a fully fledged, unique, standalone adventure, although there’s an overarching narrative that spans the two. Cleverly, you get a password when you complete one of them that lets you carry over your save game to the next instalment, although it doesn’t matter which order you play the games in.

Apparently, the whole thing was originally going to be THREE games, each representing an aspect of the Triforce. But the third game was cancelled, and the protracted development saw the concept undergo enormous changes – hence why the games were released so late into the GBC’s life cycle. In fact, they didn’t emerge until well after the release of the GBA, the GBC’s replacement. The Oracle games’ huge ambition and wonderful graphics are typical of late-stage software for an ageing console, as developers finally master the hardware and are able to push it to its absolute limits.

The Rod of Seasons lets you change, ahem, the season, which is key to solving puzzles.

But to start with, I wasn’t enormously enthusiastic about playing Oracle of Seasons. I recalled a few reviews from the time being a little lukewarm about the game, especially in the wake of the astonishing Ocarina of Time, so I never saw it as a ‘must-play’ title. How wrong I was.

I’ll just put this out there right now – I reckon Oracle of Seasons is better than Link’s Awakening. In fact, I’d easily class it in my top 5 Zelda games, it’s that good. It’s just packed with so many great ideas, such as a boxing kangaroo called Ricky that you can ride on to leap over holes and punch out enemies. (In fact, that bit was so fun, it’s a real shame that Link stuck to riding boring old horses in the later entries – bring back Ricky, I say.) The collectible items are also inspired, particularly the magnetic gloves, which allow you to attract or repel certain enemies and pull yourself across gaps by latching onto a metal pole.

Hey Ricky, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind, hey Ricky!

But it’s the brilliant dungeons that really make the game. The below instalment of Boss Keys does a much better job than I could of explaining what makes these dungeons so good. They’re a joy to play through – challenging but never frustrating, with a real sense of achievement when you make it through alive. Wonderful stuff.

I’ve already started on the next game, Oracle of Ages, and judging by how much I enjoyed Oracle of Seasons, The Year of Zelda is going to be a very fun year indeed.


This article is part of The Year of Zelda, an attempt to play through all of the Zelda games I’ve yet to finish.

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10 GameCube Games I’d Love To See On Nintendo Switch

gamecube-console-set

Eurogamer recently reported the rumour that the Nintendo Switch will have support for GameCube games on the Virtual Console. If true, this is fantastic news, as the GameCube has an enviable library of titles to draw from, many of which never reached the audience they deserved. Big hit titles like Super Mario Sunshine, Luigi’s Mansion and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door are a sure bet for revival on the Switch Virtual Console, but there are loads of excellent GameCube games that are less well known or successful yet nonetheless deserve to see the light of day again. Here are the ten GameCube titles I’d love to play on the Nintendo Switch.

Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance

This was the first Fire Emblem game to embrace 3D and voice acting, and it was the first to feature Ike, now immortalised in Super Smash Bros. and as a rather fetching amiibo. I never got to play it at the time, so I’d really love to get my hands on this one. Seeing as previous Fire Emblem titles have already made their way to the Virtual Console, I reckon there’s a good chance we’ll see this one appear on Switch.

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Doshin The Giant

I’ve written before about how much I love this game. Doshin the Giant is a bit like a cross between From Dust and Black & White – you control a big, friendly, yellow giant called Doshin, and you gain worshippers by clearing land for them so their villages can grow bigger. And YOU grow bigger as more and more people start to love you. But at the start of the next day, you find yourself back to normal size and the process starts all over again. It’s weird, relaxing and utterly, utterly wonderful.

doshin-the-giant

Skies of Arcadia Legends

Skies of Arcadia originally came out on the Dreamcast, and it’s one of my favourite RPGs of all time. The ship battles were great, and assembling a crew from across the world of floating islands was compelling – plus those famed SEGA blue skies were very much in evidence. The GameCube version adds the ‘Legends’ subtitle, along with lots of extra discoveries and tweaks. Most notably, the only real problem with the original has been fixed: the frustratingly high encounter rate has been reduced, so you can explore in relative peace without being pounced on by enemies every five seconds.

skies-of-arcadia

Lost Kingdoms II

Although it’s not particularly well known, the first Lost Kingdoms was one of the best games for the GameCube – I’ve written about what makes it so good right here. The sequel is even better, but it was released right near the end of the GameCube’s lifespan and is pretty difficult to get hold of now: it currently goes for £30-40 on eBay. Both games were developed by FromSoftware, the folks behind Dark Souls and Bloodborne, although the Lost Kingdom games are a darn sight easier than those later titles. The series’ USP is that you battle enemies using cards, which transform into allies that fight on your behalf. Almost a year later, Phantasy Star Online Episode III (also on GameCube) would go on to use a similar card battling system. Speaking of which…

lost-kingdoms-ii

Phantasy Star Online Episode III: C.A.R.D. Revolution

The third Phantasy Star Online game switched to a card battling system that divided fans of the series. Now, with the rise of Hearthstone and its ilk, card battling is very much de rigeur, so in many ways this game and Lost Kingdoms II were ahead of their time. In other words, now seems to be an ideal point to re-introduce them to the world. Of course, the multiplayer online element is crucial to Phantasy Star Online Episode III, so any re-release would require those servers to be dusted off and kicked into life again. The sheer expense of this might put paid to any hope of it seeing a second life on Virtual Console, but here’s hoping that SEGA and Nintendo see sense.

phantasy-star-online-episode-iii

Chibi-Robo!

We’ve seen a few Chibi-Robo games over the years, but generally the sequels have been disappointing and not a patch on the charming GameCube original. You play a tiny household robot tasked with cleaning up after humans, but you’re constrained by having to constantly top up your batteries by plugging into the mains. The real draw though is the domestic drama that plays out in the background as the family weathers a pending divorce. Shigeru Miyamoto had a hand in its development, so perhaps that fact alone will be enough to secure it a Switch rerelease.

chibi-robo

P.N.03

P.N.03 was announced as one of the ‘Capcom Five‘, a bevvy of GameCube exclusive titles that looked set to revive the fortunes of the ailing console. The other four were Killer7, Viewtiful Joe, Resident Evil 4 and Dead Phoenix: but Dead Phoenix was cancelled, and the other three quickly lost their exclusivity and were launched for rival consoles. P.N.03, on the other hand, remained exclusive to GameCube – probably because the game was somewhat of a commercial failure. Yet despite its lack of success, it’s a real cracker of a game from Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, and it offers a vibrantly different take on the run and gun shooter. Lead character Vanessa Z. Schneider is balletic but, counter-intuitively, has somewhat restricted movement, leaping left and right, backwards and forwards to precisely measured distances. This movement set in turn demands precise shooting and dodging, and it remains a unique and fascinating game that sticks in the memory.

p-n-03

Cubivore: Survival of the Fittest

Although this Japanese release was localized for the North American market, it never made it to Europe, so bringing Cubivore to Switch would provide the first opportunity for gamers in the UK to sample its weirdness. You play a carnivorous cube that starts off with one flappy limb, and the idea is to make your cube stronger by eating other cubes, which cause it to mutate. Different colours give different abilities, and you can mate with lady cubes to spawn a new generation with new mutations – as well as an extra limb. Limbs are important because you can only attack cubes with an up to one more limb than you have, so you need to max out your appendages to take on bigger baddies. Oh, and in a rather gruesome twist, you defeat enemies by wrenching off their limbs. How very un-Nintendo.

Battalion Wars

Battalion Wars is a spin-off of the Advance Wars series, but rather than being a turn-based strategy game, it’s a cartoony third-person shooter. However, it still retains some strategy elements, as you control a squadron of troops that you can switch between, ans each can be given specific orders, such as holding position of attacking certain targets. In essence, it’s a bit like the venerable Second World War game Hidden & Dangerous, but without the extremely slow pace, realistic setting and brutal difficulty. A sequel was released for the Wii, but the series has been dormant ever since, so it would be great to see it revived on Switch.

battalion-wars

Eternal Darkness

Despite the best efforts of director Denis Dyack, Eternal Darkness has yet to receive a sequel, which is a crying shame as it was one of the most original and creepy games of its time. Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s writings, it tells the tale of attempts to revive ancient gods that are set to wipe out mankind. The game starts with Alexandra Roivas investigating the murder of her grandfather in his mansion, where she comes across the Tome of Eternal Darkness. The book details the many attempts by individuals to thwart the revival of the Ancient Ones, and as Alexandra reads each chapter, you take control of whoever wrote that particular passage. There are 12 playable characters in all, everyone from a Roman centurion to a Franciscan monk, and each chapter plays very differently according to the abilities of your character. But the game is most famous for its ‘sanity meter’ which fills up as you encounter more and more ethereal horrors. If it maxes out, weird, disorienting effects occur that often break the fourth wall – your TV might turn off, or the game will suddenly announce it’s deleting your save file. The magic system is also pretty clever, as you pick out runes to cast a spell: the more runes, the more powerful the spell, but the greater time you’re left vulnerable while casting. If we can’t have a sequel to this wonderful horror game, the least Nintendo could do is revive it on their next console. And there are hints it might be on its way.

eternal-darkness

So that’s my wish list for GameCube games that should be revived on Switch – which ones are you looking forward to seeing?

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Advertising drivel: What rhymes with Nintendo?

I love old advertisements and marketing material. They in many ways embody a time and place better than anything else around; mainly because they’re specifically designed to capture and appeal to society’s psyche en masse. In the 1990’s video games were at the cutting edge of consumer trends and so are cracking little depictions of what was ‘cool’ at the time. Nintendo’s own marketing efforts around the Game Boy are some of my favourites and are nothing short of brilliant if not cringeworthy. And of course everyone remembers the all-encompassing “Mortal Monday” marketing push behind the arrival of Mortal Kombat on home consoles.

But having looked through a metric shit-tonne of old retail advertisements for video games in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I can unequivocally say that they absolutely take the cake in a shithouse kind of way. So shithouse that it’s hard not to love them.

So what rhymes with Nintendo?

GB_1994_ad

I can imagine a marketing executive at the Grace Bros. Department store went home proud as punch on the day he thought up this little ditty. Well done, son.

On a side note: the weird-but-surprisingly-bonza Dragon’s Lair branded version of ZX Spectrum game Rollercoaster for a cool $19.95 is a right bargain!

Source: [1994 ‘Advertising.’, The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), 7 September, p. 15, viewed 18 July, 2016]

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A few surprises from Play Expo Blackpool

As promised, I thought I’d write up a few thoughts on my visit to the wonderful Play Expo Blackpool just over a week ago. It was a crazily hectic day in the end, as I rushed around trying to interview people and type up my notes, but I did manage to find some time to check out some of the exhibits and play a few games.

The Norbreck Castle Hotel.

The Norbreck Castle Hotel.

The exhibition took place at the Norbreck Castle Hotel, a bizarre pink and beige fortress that looms up in front of the beach like a sort of shabby Disneyland. You get the impression that the hotel has seen better days – not least from the copious amounts of missing letters on the sign outside.

The sign for the conference centre is more like a giant game of outdoor Hangman.

The sign for the conference centre is more like a giant game of outdoor Hangman.

Things were much more impressive inside, however. The main room was essentially a giant arcade, packed to the brim with fantastic old coin-ops. I made a a beeline for the Defender cabinet, as I loved the Amiga conversion but I’ve never played the arcade original.

Arcade heaven.

Arcade heaven.

Defender was as brutally difficult as its reputation suggests – and much harder than the Amiga conversion thanks to its needlessly complicated control system. In the Amiga version, you change the direction of your ship by simply moving left or right on the joystick, but in the arcade version you have to press a ‘reverse’ button to change direction. Similarly, on the Amiga you speed up your ship by simply holding in the direction you want to go, but in the arcade version you have to press a ‘thrust’ button. Then there are other buttons for hyperspace and smart bombs – the first few times I played, I was tying my hands in knots just trying to move my ship around.

I just about got the hang of it in the end – but getting to the second wave felt like an enormous achievement. And all told, I think the Amiga conversion is far more enjoyable thanks to the controls – a conclusion that I’m sure many will argue with.

A Megadrive dev kit, complete with Primal Rage.

A Megadrive dev kit, complete with Primal Rage prototype board.

One of the highlights of the day was meeting with Phil Robinson, who previously worked for Psygnosis and had a hand in the Primal Rage conversion for the Megadrive. He even brought the game’s prototype board along to the show. I mentioned that a certain Primal Rage megafan and co-blogger of mine would be very jealous that I got to meet him…

One disappointment was that I wasn’t able to track down the Virtual Boy that was supposed to be somewhere at the show – I suppose I’ll have to wait a while longer to play on Nintendo’s white elephant. But I did end up spending an enjoyable hour or so in the board game area chatting to various board-game aficionados, and receiving plenty of useful recommendations in the process. It took an enormous amount of willpower to resist buying some of the amazing board games on sale: I came very close to dropping nearly £50 on Fury of Dracula, but in the end I settled on the rather less expensive Forbidden Island, from the same guy who made Pandemic. (I’ve played it since, it’s ace.)

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A major highlight came during the Spectrum talk. Henrique Olifiers (of I Am Bread and Surgeon Simulator fame) gave a really interesting talk about the Spectrum mod scene, and highlighted some of the fascinating games that are coming out of Russia (something I’ve written about before). But then he dropped a bombshell.

IMG_4720

Henrique Olifiers is on the right.

Turns out he’s been working on a new version of the Spectrum with the original Spectrum designer Rick Dickinson, and he gave the official worldwide reveal of the system right there – the room exploded with excitement. The new system is compatible with all of the various expansions that have been built in Russia and elsewhere, and it has that all-important HDMI port, along with lots of various other bells and whistles. More importantly, it looks beautiful. You can check out the official page here – a Kickstarter is coming soon.

The beautiful ZX Spectrum Next, Image from http://www.specnext.com/

The beautiful ZX Spectrum Next, Image from http://www.specnext.com/

So all in all, a pretty exciting day – and it made me think I really should go along to these events more often, if only to meet so many people who are just as passionate about games as I am.

Buy Forbidden Island from Amazon UK.

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Play Expo Blackpool

I’m off to Play Expo Blackpool on Saturday, for what promises to be a hectic but fun-packed day of gaming – of both the retro and future flavours.

blackpool-2016-on-white-locations-30I have a few potential articles lined up based on some of the people and games being shown at the expo, so it’s going to be a bit of a mad rush to get round it all and make all of my appointments. (Can’t say much about them right now, unfortunately, but check back soon.) Still, I’m hoping there will at least be time to hear the talk by Henrique Olifiers (of I Am Bread fame) on the history and future of the ZX Spectrum.

I’m also dead keen to have a go on the Defender arcade cabinet. I played the Amiga conversion to death when I was a kid, but I’ve never had a chance to play on the original, so that will be a real treat. They also have a Virtual Boy at the Expo, so I’ll be making a bee line for that when I can. I’ve always been interested in having a go on Nintendo’s curious commercial failure.

If you’re going to be at the exhibition and want to say hi, please leave a note in the comments – always interesting to meet AMAP readers! I’ll report back next week on how my day went…

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